St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly is defending his office's decision last week to drop a drunken driving charge against politically connected Fairview Heights Police Sgt. James Krummrich.
"No one is above the law, but neither is anyone below the law," Kelly said in a prepared statement provided Monday night. "Proof beyond a reasonable doubt applies to a charged police officer as well as any civilian."
Last Thursday, Assistant State's Attorney Julie Elliot dismissed a DUI charge against the 47-year-old Krummrich. A day later, Krummrich pleaded guilty to a related citation for improper merging into traffic. He was fined $100 and given 30 days court supervision.
Krummrich, a 15-year police veteran and Democratic Party precinct committeeman, has returned to full-duty and was not disciplined by his department. He has refused to comment on his case or to be interviewed by police following his arrest.
Kelly said Associate Judge Brian Babka's decision to rescind Krummrich's driver's license suspension in May led, in part, to the dismissal of the DUI charge prior to trial. Babka determined there was no evidence that Krummrich was intoxicated, and he questioned several aspects of Belleville police's investigation, calling the case a "tsunami" of unusual events.
"If the judge had ruled in favor of the defendant on a procedural technicality, and the evidence had been stronger, we may have moved forward with the criminal case," Kelly said. "He did not do so. Instead, the judge made a legal conclusion based upon findings of fact from evidence presented at the hearing."
Both Kelly and Belleville Police Chief William Clay acknowledged that the arresting officers made errors.
"Mistakes were clearly made, but it is also clear these mistakes were neither malicious nor purposeful," Kelly said.
Clay called them "process" mistakes that he did not believe were willful.
Among the issues were that arresting officer Anthony Branchini stated Krummrich was "fit to drive" on a report detailing the DUI arrest, and he stated Krummrich refused sobriety tests at the scene, but never captured these on audio recordings from his patrol car.
Babka sided with the version of events offered at the hearing by longtime Collinsville police Sgt. Charles Mackin, who was a passenger in Krummrich's truck. Mackin testified that Krummrich was not drunk and had not been offered a field sobriety test, as Belleville police claimed. Babka called Mackin's testimony "unimpeached" based on his 22 years of experience.
Branchini declined to comment and Mackin could not be reached for comment.
Clay said he did not know Mackin but said "seniority" was overrated.
"Seniority and integrity are not synonymous," Clay said.
Clay said he brought the officers involved in Krummrich's investigation into his office and told them they need to bring their "A" game when they arrest fellow police officers, judges or other prominent members of the community, because their defense is going to pick apart every mistake.
"I trust those officers," Clay said. "I have confidence in them."
A public records request showed this would be the first DUI case Branchini handled since he joined the department in 2009 that has ended with a dismissal because of a lack of evidence. Five of the defendants were sentenced on their DUI charge and the other two had their DUI charges dismissed because of plea negotiations related to other charges.
Clay said the officers may have been reluctant to go forward with a case against a fellow officer but they did arrest Krummrich.
"I support the officers for what they did and how they did it," Clay said. "I think they had more than enough probable cause to arrest him for DUI."
Clay noted that the officers were only investigating Krummrich because he was involved in an accident after he allegedly exited a tavern.
Krummrich was driving south in the 900 block of North Illinois Street about 5:45 p.m. March 17 when he slammed his truck into the front end of a southbound SUV that was forced off the road and into some nearby trees, a police report states. The crash, which did not result in any injuries, occurred as Krummrich attempted to merge into the left lane where the road narrows from two lanes to one.
While police were questioning Krummrich about the accident they developed reasonable suspicion that he was intoxicated, Clay said.
Krummrich, who was dressed in St. Patrick's Day garb, smelled of alcohol, admitted to drinking a "few" alcoholic beverages and had glossy eyes, according to Branchini.
But this ended up not being enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Krummrich was intoxicated, according to Kelly. There was no evidence Krummrich was staggering, had bloodshot eyes or slurred speech or had alcohol in his truck, Kelly said. And police had no record of him failing either chemical or field sobriety tests.
Krummrich refused to take a breath test at the station following his arrest, which led to his driver's license suspension, the report states.
In an attempt to "salvage" the case following Babka's decision, Clay took the unusual step of having his detectives participate in the DUI investigation. They investigated a claim by a witness that Krummrich switched seats with Mackin following the accident. But no video cameras captured the alleged switch and the witness was only 70 percent sure the officers had changed seats, a police report states. Also, Krummrich told police he was the driver, and the SUV's driver repeatedly identified Krummrich as the driver.
"We can't make up evidence," Kelly said. "I can't prosecute someone based on my personal feelings about a situation. I've got to have evidence."
Romanik upset prosecutor appeals his case
Robert Romanik is wondering why Kelly's office chose to drop Krummrich's case because of a lack of evidence but has taken the rare step of appealing his misdemeanor charges that were dismissed earlier this year by Babka.
"I was livid," Romanik said.
The Belleville radio personality and outspoken critic of the St. Clair County Democratic Party was charged by Belleville police with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing following a confrontation in December with Democratic County Board Chairman Mark Kern's wife, Erin, at their home in downtown Belleville.
"They had no evidence on mine except her word against mine," Romanik said.
Babka ruled there was no evidence that Romanik committed disorderly conduct and ruled the trespassing charge did not apply because Erin Kern was not the property owner.
Kelly declined to comment on Romanik's case this week. Previously, he has stated his office is appealing the trespassing case because Babka's ruling would set a bad precedent.
Romanik said he was appalled that Elliot, who also prosecuted his case, stated in the Krummrich case that national ethics required her to dismiss a case when the evidence does not reasonably support a conviction.
"I wish (Krummrich) the best," Romanik said. "I'm glad they threw it out if there wasn't enough evidence."
Romanik said he wishes Kelly's office would have done the same thing in his case.
Contact reporter Kevin Bersett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2535. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KevinBersett